VIMS Strategic Plan



The Virginia Institute of Marine Science, founded in 1940 as the Virginia Fisheries Laboratory, has grown over the past seven and a half decades to become one of the Nation’s largest and most well-respected marine science centers focused on coastal and estuarine science. VIMS is unusual in its melding of three essential public functions: advisory and outreach services, cutting-edge research, and formal and informal education. The strengths of the Institute are in its diverse faculty, interdisciplinary approach to complex scientific questions, and provisions of practical solutions to problems in the marine environment—all aided by a dedicated support staff and top-notch students.

VIMS fosters an approach to its mission that encourages and facilitates synergistic interactions among its core disciplines that focus on scientific problems ranging widely in scale from global to molecular. Nearly every marine science discipline and sub-discipline is represented on the faculty, from marine biology and ecology to marine fisheries, marine geology, marine chemistry, physical oceanography, and modeling. Much of the work at VIMS is directly applicable to current and emerging management and policy issues that are important to the State’s economy, and to the health and sustainability of the Commonwealth’s natural resources.

Strategic Plan

It is fitting that the VIMS Strategic Plan, outlined below, was finalized during our 75th Anniversary in 2015, the same year that VIMS awarded its 1000th graduate degree in marine science and embarked on the public phase of a $35 million fund-raising campaign. We continue to celebrate the 75th Anniversary and use it as a time of reflection. It offers a unique opportunity to revisit and celebrate our past, and for considerable thought to be given to our future and how VIMS can build on its core strengths. During the course of the past year, workgroups became deeply involved in providing ideas and information to a steering committee charged with helping develop the Strategic Plan. Those ideas form the underpinnings of the Strategic Plan, and tie perfectly into the VIMS tagline “Science for the Bay, Impact for the World.”

The Strategic Plan is intended to provide a high-level document with aspirational but realistic goals that will help shape the future of VIMS. Six broad areas of focus were developed to (1) better understand the effects of human activity and global change on marine systems, (2) connect marine science and public policy to generate greater sustainability and resiliency in coastal environments, (3) enhance the regional economy through research and discovery, and workforce development, (4) train and empower the next generation of marine science leaders, (5) build out the VIMS campus and expand opportunities for its talented workforce, and (6) support the above goals through an aggressive fund-raising campaign in concert with William and Mary’s $1 billion “For the Bold” campaign.

The Strategic Plan is structured around overarching goals, each with a set of objectives and a list of strategic actions with ways in which they can be implemented. The strategic actions are neither prescriptive nor exhaustive. They are intended to form the basis for meaningful action with a focus on achieving impact, while at the same time allowing flexibility and exercise of judgment by the administration. Although the Strategic Plan does not preclude engaging in productive activities that are not identified in the overarching goals, it does mean that the strategic goals will receive additional energy and resources as they become available.

The VIMS Strategic Plan is necessarily tied to the VIMS Mission. The mission of the Virginia Institute of Marine Science is to seek and broadly communicate knowledge in marine and coastal science to the Commonwealth of Virginia and the nation through research, education, and advisory service”.

As a nationally and internationally recognized premier marine science institute, our overarching goals in the VIMS Vision are to “(1) make seminal advances in understanding marine and coastal systems through research and discovery, (2) translate research findings into practical solutions to complex issues of societal importance, and (3) provide new generations of researchers, educators, problem solvers, and managers with a marine-science education of unsurpassed quality”.

Goals of Strategic Plan
GOAL 1: Transform society’s understanding of local and regional effects of human activity and global change

Objective 1: Organize collaborative research efforts around the theme of environmental change to better understand how physical, biological, and human factors will impact marine systems and communities

Strategic Actions: (1) Building on existing research strengths at VIMS, fill critical gaps in faculty expertise and identify priority areas for acquisition of new tools and technology to advance our capabilities. Implement by establishing an interdepartmental team to identify cross-cutting gaps in faculty expertise that could be filled by upcoming retirements, and by seeking campus-wide input on tools and technologies that can be transformative in advancing institutional capabilities. (2) Translate results of research into strategies to lower risk and enhance sustainability and resiliency of marine systems and communities. Implement through partnerships with NGOs and with local, regional, and state governments who have expertise in translating science to application.

Lead: Associate Dean for Research and Advisory Services

Objective 2: Expand capacity to rapidly mobilize multi-disciplinary partnerships that can respond to research, education and funding opportunities that result from event-driven environmental changes

Strategic Actions: (1) Create opportunities that bring scientists together for the purpose of collaboration, and designate liaison faculty to interact with federal agencies on emerging issues and funding opportunities. Implement by having the ADRAS office identify appropriate faculty for liaison roles and to lead broad-based collaboration to increase scientific understanding. (2) Develop partnerships with academic, state and federal centers of excellence in traditional marine science fields as well as partnerships in other fields such as policy, economics, engineering, law, business, and landscape architecture. Implement through targeted MOUs and cooperative agreements that create new opportunities.

Leads: Associate Dean for Research and Advisory Services; Dean and Director

Objective 3: Foster synthesis of existing long-term and spatially-extensive data sets that will be vital to understanding and quantifying key environmental trends and for answering the next generation of complex questions about environmental changes and their underlying causes

Strategic Actions: (1) Create a comprehensive, curated data repository, and secure sustained funding for maintaining and analyzing contents of the collection. Implement by developing an inventory of relevant existing data and cost estimates for repository needs, followed by aggressive pursuit of endowment support. (2) Use these data as rapid assessment tools for gauging impact of human activity and global change on marine systems. Implement by optimizing open access of data while respecting intellectual property rights, and by advertising data availability.

Lead: Associate Dean for Research and Advisory Services

Objective 4: Enhance systematic collection, preservation, and dissemination of new observations essential to assessing, understanding, sustaining and improving environmental quality of our marine systems

Strategic Actions: Maintain and expand a priority set of monitoring and research programs at VIMS in the areas of water quality, finfish and shellfish, submerged aquatic vegetation, wetlands, and shoreline change. Implement by leveraging their capacity through synthesis research, partnerships with digital archive and data management programs, and publish results through publicly-accessible venues.

Lead: Associate Dean for Research and Advisory Services

Objective 5: Develop and utilize state-of-the-art computer models to simulate the impacts of human activity and global change with emphasis on areas where VIMS can make unique contributions such as storm surge prediction

Strategic Actions: Enhance existing modeling expertise by building internal and external collaborations to ensure that there are no gaps in expertise and that our modeling program is highly coherent. Implement by modeling a range of mitigation strategies and prioritize community actions that lower risk and enhance sustainability and resiliency of marine systems.

Leads: Associate Dean for Research and Advisory Services; Chair, Department of Physical Sciences

GOAL 2: Build on our existing robust and effective linkages between science experts, public policymakers, and education leaders to more effectively reduce risk from coastal flooding and shoreline erosion, and enhance sustainability and resiliency in coastal marine systems

Objective 1: Enhance the impact of VIMS scientific advice on policy deliberations through increasing access, awareness, and understanding of the expertise of the VIMS community

Strategic Actions: Increase awareness of VIMS among target audiences and clients by more effectively promoting our knowledge of science, our mandated role as marine and natural resource advisors to the Commonwealth, and by using the latest  communication, outreach, and engagement strategies. Implement by creating and distributing lists of subject-matter experts, delivering issue-based briefing documents for each incoming administration, and more widely disseminating VIMS scientific opinions on natural resource mandates.

Leads: Associate Dean for Research and Advisory Services; Dean and Director

Objective 2: Develop decision-support tools and facilitate their application in order to transfer our findings, syntheses, models, and expertise to decision-makers

Strategic Actions: Develop the new best management practices (BMPs) and innovative solutions that improve marine systems. Implement by establishing greater interaction among the Chesapeake Bay National Estuarine Research Reserve, Center for Coastal Resources Management, and Virginia Sea Grant Marine Advisory Program, and by increasing professional training and access to tools for local/regional decision makers.

Leads: Directors of CBNERR, CCRM, and SG MAP

GOAL 3: Enhance the regional economy through scientific discovery and application of new knowledge

Objective 1: Develop partnerships with industry to explore the potential for marketing VIMS’ existing capabilities and new scientific discoveries in the commercial sector

Strategic Actions: Promote involvement in the VIMS-Industry Partnership through the state’s GO Virginia initiative, and increase awareness of its mission and role in workforce development in the Commonwealth. Implement by actively seeking out, especially through philanthropy, new opportunities in collaborative research, joint university-industry projects, and other commercialization endeavors.

Leads: Associate Dean for Research and Advisory Services; Director of Development

Objective 2: Position VIMS to more strongly contribute to offshore environmental studies with special emphasis on studies that will guide offshore energy development in the Mid-Atlantic Bight

Strategic Actions: Define VIMS’ strengths in the offshore and identify collaborative partnerships with engineering and environmental companies to better enable us to work in areas of energy development. Implement by investing where feasible in relevant infrastructure and expertise, and using the Center for Applied Marine Science and Technology as an effective conduit for industry-supported contracts.

Lead: Associate Dean for Research and Advisory Services

Objective 3: Support further development, advancement and commercialization of cutting-edge technologies with applications to environmental sciences 

Strategic Actions: Expand collaboration with industry and research institutions to fully develop and validate sensor technology and monitoring systems, and in other areas such as software protocols, disease diagnostics, and selectively-bred marine species. Implement by creating with private support a Dean and Director’s Innovation Fund to help seed these efforts.

Lead: Associate Dean for Research and Advisory Services; Director of Development; Dean and Director

Objective 4: Establish VIMS as a global authority in education, research, and advisory activities to underpin economically-viable and sustainable fisheries

Strategic Actions: Build on strengths of the diverse research programs and long-standing fisheries monitoring programs at VIMS to develop new understanding of environmental change. Implement by developing collaborations with other fields such as economics, law and business to more effectively influence policy and train the next generation of leaders in the field.

Leads: Associate Dean for Research and Advisory Services; Chair, Department of Fisheries Science           

Objective 5: Provide the critical research, development, training, outreach and public-policy leadership to position Virginia as the nation’s leader in shellfish aquaculture

Strategic Actions: Sustain vital support for industry in core areas of breeding, disease diagnostics, animal health, and technical training. Implement by securing state funds for a new research hatchery, and private funds for developing diagnostic tools and remediation strategies for identifying and overcoming emerging threats to industry associated with environmental change.

Lead: Associate Dean for Research and Advisory Service; Director of Development

GOAL 4: Train, inspire and empower the next generation of marine science leaders (additional detail in the VIMS Academic Program Strategic Plan)

Objective 1: Maintain our position of prominence by attracting the best students in an increasingly competitive global education market

Strategic Actions: Develop a formal marketing and comprehensive recruitment strategy that will help us to maintain our position of prominence, while increasing the visibility of the School of Marine Science as a global leader in marine science graduate education, and enhancing recruitment of a diverse population of talented and highly qualified students. Implement by revamping the School of Marine Science website, compiling “metrics of excellence”, and establish or reinvigorate recruitment efforts with supply-chain programs, such as the REU Program, and affiliations with key scientific organizations; build on successful collaborations with Historically Black and Hispanic serving institutions.

Lead: Associate Dean of Academic Studies

Objective 2: Prepare students to conduct and effectively communicate the science needed to address societal challenges in estuarine, coastal and marine policy and decision-making

Strategic Actions: Enhance the impact, accessibility, and competitiveness of the School of Marine Science education and training via innovative programs, strategic partnerships, individualized student development approaches, and ongoing self-assessment. Implement by comprehensively exploring innovative degree and other program models and delivery modes, completing development of the Process of Institutional Effectiveness (PIE) for the School of Marine Science in support of the W&M accreditation process, and creating structured professional development opportunities for students.

Lead: Associate Dean of Academic Studies

Objective 3: Recruit, develop and retain an exceptional and diverse faculty dedicated to scholarship and life-long learning

Strategic Actions: Provide a vibrant, scholarly environment that attracts new faculty to VIMS, encourages creativity and growth, and facilitates excellence and leadership throughout a faculty member’s career. Implement by providing opportunities for professional development of faculty at all career stages, including ways to gain leadership skills, by establishing a new faculty orientation and mentoring program and a visiting scholars program.

Lead: Associate Dean for Academic Studies

Objective 4: Leverage institutional expertise in the fields of informal education and literacy training to enhance the graduate program, and achieve broader societal impacts, especially in the local community, and foster innovative educational programming

Strategic Actions: Provide graduate students with access to informal and K-12 teaching opportunities, and enhance their professional development through involvement in outreach that helps build job skills. Implement by continuing to aggressively seek funding for a GK-12 program to provide training for those interested in pursuing a career in education.

Lead: Associate Dean of Academic Studies

Objective 5: Increase and diversify the funding base and enhance funding stability for the graduate program

Strategic actions: (1) Create an endowed full fellowship program (tuition, stipend, health insurance, research allowance, and professional development) for exceptional doctoral students that will allow VIMS to address strategic priorities and attract top scholars now and in the future. Implement by aggressively exploring ways to use institutional support, private support, and federal training grants, or those focused on broader impacts, to enhance the financial stability and continuity of student funding in the graduate program, with an emphasis on easing the pressure on faculty who want to mentor Ph.D. students but have difficulty committing to long-term support.  (2) Improve education program efficiency by critically evaluating time to degree for the M.S. and Ph.D. programs. Implement by re-examining degree program requirements, specifically the credit requirements for the M.S. program and the restriction on direct admittance to the Ph.D. program for those without a M.S. degree.

Leads: Associate Dean for Academic Studies; Director for Development; Dean and Director

GOAL 5: Develop and maintain a safe and attractive campus that promotes intellectual achievement and a sense of community

Objective 1: Incorporate best practices in design and construction of new facilities and in renovation of existing facilities with emphasis on environmental sustainability

Strategic Actions:  Update the Comprehensive Master Plan, utilizing innovative current and emerging technologies to create state-of-the-art classrooms and research laboratories. Work to achieve LEED certification on all future construction. Implement by creating contractual agreements with responsible architects and construction contractors, and design and install sustainable design features that comply with the requirements for the Green Building Council in order to achieve LEED certification.

Leads: Chief Operations Officer; Chief Financial and Administrative Officer

Objective 2: Expand pathways for workforce development and career advancement

Strategic Actions: Provide operational flexibilities for employees in achieving the Institute’s mission and goals. Commit institutional resources to support faculty and staff training and professional development opportunities. Implement by formally establishing a professional development program that creates a pool of resources and opportunities to enable faculty and staff to create a growth plan that will enhance their knowledge, skills, and abilities within their respective areas and in carrying out the mission of the Institute.

Lead: Chief Financial and Administrative Officer

GOAL 6: Transform the public perception of, and investment in, VIMS in order to diversify revenue and advance Goals 1-5

Objective 1: Embark on the public phase of a $35 million campaign for VIMS in concert with W&M’s $1 billion “For the Bold” campaign.

Strategic Actions: (1) Develop and use “Big Ideas” to provide transformational giving opportunities for philanthropic partners who seek to restore Chesapeake Bay, develop the next generation of marine science leaders, and share VIMS research and thought leadership with the world. Implement by achieving greater brand recognition and public understanding of VIMS’ role through outreach and visibility activities in new markets, leveraging brand recognition to advance campaign goals in current markets, and aligning VIMS campaign messaging with College campaign messaging for mutual reinforcement. (2) Reorganize internally and externally in concert with our allies at the VIMS Foundation to support a staffing and volunteer structure that helps achieve our ambitions. Implement by leveraging staff, marketing, and technology resources from central Advancement to allow VIMS to reach more potential VIMS donors via annual platforms and in person, significantly increasing the visibility of VIMS leadership to private supporters, and aggressively pursuing visits and personal contacts with supporters.

Leads: Director of Development; Dean and Director